Black History Month

The life of William S. Hagans.

Back in February, I sat down (virtually) with Tyler Mink, Historic Interpreter at Wayne County, North Carolina’s Governor Charles B. Aycock Birthplace State Historic Site, to talk about William S. Hagans, an Aycock contemporary. William S. Hagans was not a Wilson County native, but his mother Apsilla Ward Hagans was, and he grew up on a farm on Aycock Swamp just below the Wayne-Wilson county line. I have published here a series of transcripts of testimony about a land dispute that directly involved Hagans and pulled in as witnesses several men with Wilson County links.

William S. Hagans, his brother Henry E. Hagans, and their father Napoleon Hagans were contemporaries of Daniel Vick, William H. Vick, and Samuel H. Vick and other African-American Wilsonians in late nineteenth-century Republican politics, and I share this video to illuminate the world in which they all lived.

Sallie B. Howard School centers local history.

I stopped by Sallie B. Howard School of Arts & Science to check out its recently installed Black Wilson Hall of Fame. The series pulls from Black Wide-Awake to introduce important historic local heroes to a new generation of black and brown children. But the Howard School went further, introducing the material to its young scholars in daily announcements and developing lesson plans for its teachers to use to in-depth discussions of the material. I’d hoped when I started BWA to provide a well from which my community could draw a better understanding of itself, and I’m honored to collaborate with SBHS this Black History Month!

Want to know more about Sallie B. Howard School? Its website describes its history and purpose:

Established in 1989, YEP (Youth Enrichment Program) of Wilson, Inc. is a non-profit, tax-exempt, educational and cultural organization inspired by the legendary educator and playwright Mrs. Sallie Baldwin Howard and founded by Dr. JoAnne Woodard, a licensed psychologist and Wilson native.

From the very beginning, this work was a labor of love. YEP began as a volunteer grassroots initiative devoted to breaking the cycle of drugs, crime, truancy and teenage pregnancy in low-income communities. The organization developed educational programs — summer camps, community choirs, workshops for boys, rites of passage training, parent education seminars and more –- to build self-confidence and raise the achievements and aspirations of local youth.

For 8 consecutive summers, YEP served over 400 children each year thanks to the support of area churches, elected officials and community leaders. The program’s impact was immediate: Wilson saw a decline in juvenile crime during the summers and demand for enrollment created long waiting lists.

After just a few years, it became clear that YEP needed a more permanent year-round presence in the community. The organization went on to apply for and win one of North Carolina’s first contracts to operate a public charter school. Thus, in 1997, the Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts & Education (SBHS) was born.

Two decades later, SBHS serves over 1,000 students in grades K-8 and features a performing arts-based curriculum, a travel abroad program, and a culturally diverse faculty. In 2020, the school will expand to include the SBH High School of Biotechnology and the Fine Arts.

Thank you, Dr. JoAnne Woodard and Saptosa Foster!

In case you missed it.

Last week’s Zoom talk about Mary C. Euell and the Wilson Normal and Industrial Institute may be one of my most enjoyable to date. I never tire of sharing Mary Euell’s story, and this occasion was made extra-memorable by the presence in the audience of descendants or relatives of sisters S. Roberta and Grace Battle, who were two of teachers who resigned with Euell; of Samuel H. Vick, who spearheaded the establishment of the alternative school; and of Sarah Hines, another resigning teacher, and her husband Walter S. Hines, a businessman who served on the Industrial School’s board. After my presentation, there was a freewheeling question-and-answer session that touched on a broad range of East Wilson matters and ended only because the library staff had to go on home.

My thanks, as always, to Wilson County Public Library, for its support of local history and commitment to amplifying the stories of Wilson’s African-American community. (See this month’s exhibit near the circulation desk prepared by Adult Services Librarian Naija Speight.) Special thanks to Local History and Genealogy Librarian Tammy Medlin and Assistant Director/Adult Services Manager Amanda Gardner. 

Wayne County Public Library presents …

Wayne County Public Library always has a great line-up for Black History Month, and I’m thankful to have been invited again to present. On February 10, I’ll be talking about the extraordinary life Napoleon Hagans, who went from involuntary apprenticeship as a free child of color to testifying before the United States Senate to Honorary Commissioner of the 1884 World Industrial and Cotton Centennial in New Orleans. 

To register for this virtual event:

“Gone But Not Forgotten,” again.

There was a recording glitch the first time around, so …

It’s the Encore (and a little bit updated) Edition of GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: Wilson’s African-American Cemeteries.

You are invited to attend via Zoom, 15 February 2021 at 7:00 PM Eastern Time.

Please register in advance for this meeting:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with information about joining the meeting.

If you missed the first talk, I hope to see you at this one!

Photograph of Lula Dew Wooten’s gravestone in Odd Fellows cemetery by Lisa Y. Henderson, January 2021.

Wilson Black History Month events.

The Wilson Times‘ monthly supplement Wide-Awake Wilson published a guide to local Black History Month events. Proud to see Lane Street Project and Freeman Round House Museum on the list!

And here’s an option for the littles:

Sweetheart’s Cookies is baking #blackhistorymonth cookies for Casita Brewing Company, 217 South Street, Wilson. Bring your kids to the brewery Sunday, 7 February, to learn a little bit about Black History. Choose a historical figure from one of the cookies, fill in the Smart Cookie webquest form, and get a free cookie (while supplies last)! Learning is sweet!

Lane Street Project: the Black History Month Clean-ups!

Lane Street Project is a community initiative dedicated to the documentation and preservation of three African-American cemeteries. In so doing, we also work to highlight and celebrate the history and culture of East Wilson.

If you missed the MLK Weekend Kick-Off, you have two chances this month to join Lane Street Project’s Community Cemetery Clean-Ups! Our ancestors ARE Black History. What better way to honor their legacy? 

Lane Street Project invites all of Wilson to join its Community Clean-Ups at Odd Fellows Cemetery, 2100 Bishop L.N. Forbes St. Please bring hand tools, trash bags, and gloves to help clip vines and small tree limbs, rake debris, remove trash, and search for hidden headstones. Masks and social distancing required.

“Freedom’s Plow” and the “apt little boys and girls” of Saint Alphonsus.

Last year’s Black History Month surprise was the discovery that Langston Hughes spoke at Darden High School on 10 February 1949. This year’s comes courtesy of a North Carolina State University grad student, who tipped me to Hughes’ other audience that day — the children of Saint Alphonsus Catholic School.

Hughes wrote about his “little trip down South” on his regular column in the Chicago Defender. He praised the Wilson County Negro Library, its librarian, and the itinerary she devised for him. Hughes was especially charmed by the “tiny youngsters” of Saint Alphonsus, who performed his poem “Freedom’s Plow” in its entirety. (Take a peek at Freedom’s Plow if you don’t know it. Not only does it tackle weighty subjects, it is long. I add my applause for the Saint Alphonsus scholars!)

Chicago Defender, 26 February 1946.

The final stanza of “Freedom’s Plow,” which brings a word for our time:

A long time ago,
An enslaved people heading toward freedom
Made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and shelter grow
Until all races and all peoples know its shade.

If you know anyone who attended Saint Alphonsus in 1949 and remembers Langton Hughes’ visit, please let me know!